Getting with the mod_rewrite voodoo


I’ve been working on a fairly large product site in two languages lately, and am using Apache mod_rewrite to do the url mapping, so that things look nice and pretty like, instead of the ugly query strings we’re not supposed to see in the Web 2.0 world (IMHO, somtimes I think query strings would be easier mind ‘cos there’s less to configure).

Anyhoo, I thought I’d post the mod_rewrite voodoo here for the greater goodness of mankind, and wait for people to shoot me down so that I can learn more from it ;-)

Here you go – download if you want it – all purty simple and straightforward:
(PS – each line should be on one line, so if it wraps for you, copy and paste and make sure it’s one one line when you use it)

# mod_rewrite in use
RewriteEngine On

# This needs to be set to allow URL manipulation on my server – setup on local dev server in httpd.conf
Options +FollowSymlinks

# Set the base URL
RewriteBase /

# we don’t want rules to apply to this directory
RewriteRule ^your-dir-name/.*$ – [L]

### set all page requests to go to instead of
#RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^domain\.com$ [NC]
#RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [R=301,L]

########## Begin Standard SEF Section
RewriteRule ^profiles/([^/\.]+)/?$ profile.php?page=$1 [L]

# categories
RewriteRule ^([^/\.]+)/?$ /view_category.php?cat_url=$1 [QSA,L]

# subcategories
RewriteRule ^([^/\.]+)/([^/\.]+)/?$ /view_subcategory.php?cat_url=$1&subcat_url=$2 [QSA,L]

## detailpages, second sends a state of the product detail page
RewriteRule ^([^/\.]+)/([^/\.]+)/([^/\.]+)/?$ /view_product_detail.php?cat_url=$1&subcat_url=$2&product_url=$3 [QSA,L]
RewriteRule ^([^/\.]+)/([^/\.]+)/([^/\.]+)/([^/\.]+)/?$ /view_product_detail.php?cat_url=$1&subcat_url=$2&product_url=$3&state=$4 [QSA,L]

########## End Standard SEF Section

########## Error documents
ErrorDocument 404 /error.php

I’ll leave you with some cool quotes from the real guru’s:
The great thing about mod_rewrite is it gives you all the configurability and flexibility of Sendmail. The downside to mod_rewrite is that it gives you all the configurability and flexibility of Sendmail.” — Brian Behlendorf, Apache Group

Despite the tons of examples and docs, mod_rewrite is voodoo. Damned cool voodoo, but still voodoo.” — Brian Moore

Web app laser focus


Today was a good day – we sat down and really thrashed out the user case and benefits thereof, for the app we’re building, over a bit of lunch. One of the things that came up continually was the importance of staying focussed on the task at hand, which is “the credit card test“. We’ve all worked for many years in this industry, and all worked in all sorts of environments, but the one thing that is common to all of them is the desire to continually add new features and new functionality, either at our own behest, or at the clients request. The upside in the service model is that since your time is money, you earn more money. There doesn’t seem to be much of a downside as long as you deliver what you promise, apart from stress of course ;-)

In the product side of things, however, not having a laser focus is both deadly and foolish. So what we’ve done is create a list of “nice to have’s” which we’ll keep track of and add to as we grow into our app, but for now, they’re just going to slow us down and add more work, more time and more frustration.

So we’ve really cut back on extraneous features, nailing things down to the absolute essentials – we’re not making any assumptions about what users will want or need, and we’re not going to deviate from that. We have a core offering and that simplicity is what will allow me to go to sleep tonight a happy man – safe in the knowledge that we can build up rather than have to build sideways and backwards.

My current other frustration is that things in the US seem to be blowing up, literally every day. I only have to sync my feeds in the morning to get at least 1 to 3 posts about this or that company getting funding, or releasing a new app.

OK, I’m not in the US and I’m not in the business of creating an unsustainable venture, but I am in the business of siezing on opportunities, and it just seems like the eternal adage of “it will always take longer than you think to get it done” won’t go away – balancing client work with web app development (even when you’re essentially directing, there is loads of business and marketing stuff to think about) doesn’t make for lots of time to try out new ideas.

So, the upshot is that the web app is progressing thanks to some very cool people who are working on it, but the downside is that I’m pushing back my social and relaxation time to get things done. It’s a short term fix, but will hopefully have long term benefits [I'd love to talk to you if you are in a similiar situation or have experienced this situation before] thanks to staying true to the absolute laser focus and staying true to our ideals of providing value over gimmickry.

CitySafe are looking for an Account Manager with web app experience


CitySafe are hiring::

Account Manager
We need a well presented, confident, intelligent and dedicated account handler with a minimum of three years agency experience in a professional environment.
* You must be personal and adaptable, and have a natural ability to apply new ideas in varied business environments, and use them to their full potential
* You must be able to work with FTSE 100 corporations and large public organisations
* You are completely trustworthy (we will be looking to obtain security clearance for successful applicants)
* You have an understanding of web-based applications or would like to move into this area of expertise

Any experience of the following would be beneficial

* business continuity
* contingency planning
* web application development
* SugarCRM

Salary: circa £22k / yr pro rata + commisson

Full time position, but we would consider a part-time role for the right candidate.

Taking into account the 1% rule with user generated content


I’ve been talking to a client recently about user generated content, and I’ve been trying to get them away from seeing UGC as a silver bullet, encouraging them to get the basics right first while building a platform for UGC that will start to benefit them in 9 to 12 months time. Taking the long view is not easy when you need to deliver ROI, but it is pragmatic and less prone to white elephantitis.

With all the buzz around user generated content, MySpace and YouTube (check out PornoTube if that’s your bag as well), it’s probably worth considering that when you’re launching something public, and asking users to contriute so that your site will be successful, you need to factor in that although you may be getting mad traffic to your site, only a very small proportion of them are going to actually do anything other than just look.

In the old days when forums were all the rage, common legend was that you needed around 100k of traffic, to get 1k active participantion. So growing a forum was as much about generating traffic as it was about having content that motivated people to get stuck in.

Today things are no different, except that now there is more competition and users are more fickle… So you need to apply “crossing the chasm” thinking if you’re going to get your webapp / web site growing into more than either a passing fad or a – targeting vertical niches and providing value to them is a good way (case in point is what Digg has done with their new re-launch) to do that, and so is targeting niches and users that you know well. If you’re a developer or a business, creating a web 2.0 site around tailors is probably not a good idea unless you used to be a tailor – in other words, stick to your knitting!

The flip side of this is that even if you do stick to your knitting, you need to have huge traffic to make user generated content a worthwhile business opportunity – so looking into the future my hunch is that we’re not going to see a huge gamut of new sites and apps – we’re going to see large portals that have brand recognition, and then smaller niched players servicing vertical niches.

Which one are you, or are you trying to be? ‘cos I don’t think you can be both…

Anyways, just some thoughts that I wanted to be cathartic about ;-), inspired in part by Chris Campbell over at ParticleTree – “..If you can somehow tap in to the 1% of your builders effectively to create content 89% of your users want, you might be on to something.”

Web 2.0 needs to be agile to be successful


And yet another post for e-Consultancy:

Web 2.0 needs to be agile to be successful

I’ve been dealing with a few clients of late, most of which have heard the ruckus around this newfangled Web 2.0 thing, and most of which want to do something Web 2.0 with their projects. Some want to implement blogs, others are interested in Wiki’s and podcasting, and surprisingly most of them want some Ajax features. The list goes on.

That’s really good because I’m always happy to talk to people about getting more out of the web, specifically around creating better and more valuable user experiences, but the problem I have (and which I communicate) is that Web 2.0 doesn’t just stop at implementing a blog engine, podcasts, a Wiki or Ajax.

Read more…

Blogging almost going mainstream?


And another for e-Consultancy:

Blogging almost going mainstream?

If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, you’ll probably feel that it’s old hat. The principle is simple – you talk about something that you’re interested and/or passionate about, and through that you find people that are interested in the same sort of things that you are.

Over time if you’re a good write or really passionate or you simply create / get hold of good content, you’ll rise to the top of that niche vertical interest, which in turn will result in more readers.

The problem is that until very recently blogging was kind of hard to do – you have to be at least a little technically literate to be able to use the blog software interfaces. The result being that until recently blogging definitely wasn’t part of the mainstream consciousness.

Read more…

Using Web 2.0 to harness innovation in your organisation


Another post for e-Consultancy:

Using Web 2.0 to harness innovation in your organisation

Web 2.0 means different things to different people, yet it isn’t just about the web, but is also about how your organisation works. Think intranet, as well as internet. Does your organisation work in a 2.0 way?

At the moment there seems to be three primary focuses around Web 2.0:

1) there are the technologists who are figuring out new technologies (there are many libraries and frameworks out there already).

2) there are the marketers and entrepreneurs, who are trying to figure out how use new 2.0 technologies and principles to generate profits, or help empower consumers (call them business people for now) in some way.

3) and finally, there are the users, who are increasingly using and enjoying the results of these new technologies.

But how does all that filter into your organisation in a useful way, feeding into your own innovation cycle?

Read more…